Showtime hit Homeland director Lesli Linka Glatter dishes on breaking the glass ceiling, filming in Virginia and clandestine CIA meetings.
"I do hope we actually get to shoot in DC,” says Lesli Linka Glatter—the prolific director of Showtime’s international smash hit Homeland. Glatter has been living and filming in the historic Fan District of Richmond since last September in between trips to her home in Los Angeles. “I love the aesthetics and grandeur of Washington, but the restaurant scene in Richmond is surprisingly crazy. There is a tremendous arts community and foodie culture here. I didn’t see it coming.”
While it’s rare to see film crews roaming the streets of Virginia’s capital city, it’s even rarer to see a woman at the helm of a multimillion-dollar network production. A 2016-17 study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women accounted for just 17 percent of TV directors. For the last 20 years, Glatter has been working to change that, bursting through glass ceilings and taking junior directors with her along the way. And with a 2018 NBC initiative called Female Forward, Glatter and other prominent directors have set out to employ more women in this key role.
On set in Richmond, Glatter has taken Megan Holley, a local screenwriter (Sunshine Cleaning) and director, under her wing. Holley shadows Glatter—learning to piece together the many moving parts it takes to make an episode of Homeland.
“After 20 years of mentoring young talent, I have learned so much from every one of the shadowing directors,” Glatter says. “I’m always interested in how people see things. A teacher learns as much as they pass on and I’ve learned that there is no one right way. Anyone in a position to make a dierence should be doing that. That’s how things change. You have to grab the hand of the younger generation. Directing is a hard road for anyone, but it shouldn’t be harder for our daughters than our sons. There has been more change in other areas of lmmaking and I think directing is the last holdout.”
When you watch Homeland, one of the things that stands out is how eerily aligned each season’s main story is with what’s happening in the real world. That’s no coincidence. Before each season, Glatter, lead actress Claire Danes and a team of roughly 10 writers make a trip to the nation’s capital to do some intelligence gathering. “Instead of heading to the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, we have everyone come to us and meet in a secret location in Georgetown,” condes Glatter. “Georgetown is just very neutral territory.”
The intel briefings gathering don’t stop with the CIA. Glatter explains, “We meet with people from a wide berth of government who realize we are telling a story, but would rather us get it right than get it wrong.” After an intense week of briengs, the writers go back to the writer’s room and start weaving the season’s episodes together.
She continues, “Do I feel like we have a level of responsibility in the stories we’re telling? Absolutely. There is a moral responsibility to tell the story well and not glorify terror.”
“Last season we were shooting a scene in New York where our female president is at odds with her intelligence community. We staged a demonstration in front of the InterContinental Hotel where people were chanting ‘Not our president!’ Down the road at Trump Tower, the very same thing was happening. We didn’t plan it that way, but the irony of that was not completely lost on any of us.”
In this, Homeland’s seventh and penultimate season, the show’s main character CIA operative Carrie Mathison, played by Danes, finds herself in the middle of a presidency gone rogue. Glatter is not forthcoming about which government agency helped her team choose that storyline.
She is not unfamiliar with the game of politics—she grew up suspended between the consuming worlds of politics and art. Her father was a labor organizer fighting for the rights of factory workers and her mother was a concert-level modern dance choreographer who traveled the world. In a former life, Glatter choreographed modern dance shows in Japan and L.A. Now she choreographs chase scenes and explosions.
“Our goal is to tell a compelling story that is based on real things and hopefully encourages people to have a dialogue,” she shares. “I enjoy having characters in a scene who have opposing views yet are both right. You can look at both sides of an issue without saying this is the right way. Because who knows the right way?” Now, that sounds like a very Washington thing to say.